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Merit pay

Merit pay

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Merit pay is a term describing performance-related pay
Performance-related pay
Performance-related pay is money paid to someone relating to how well one works. Car salesmen, production line workers, for example, may be paid in this way, or through commission....

, most frequently in the context of educational reform. It provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs effectively, according to measurable criteria. In the United States, policy makers are divided on whether merit pay should be offered to public school teachers, as is commonly the case in the United Kingdom.


Proponents argue that paying teachers according to their effectiveness would be consistent with management precepts from the private sector and would lead to better educational outcomes.

Lewis Solmon, President of the TAP and a control group that merit pay contributes toward student achievement. The RAND study concluded that fifty percent of the schools with these reforms outperformed the control schools in math and forty-seven percent outperformed the control in reading.

Schools that use merit pay are better able to attract teachers than schools with no merit pay system. At least, that is what the main goal of merit pay is. This is especially helpful in enabling schools with lower socioeconomic status attract qualified teachers. For instance, a review of a the Teacher Advancement Program http://www.tapsystem.org/ in Arizona showed that over a three year period, 61 teachers started working at the two schools of lowest socioeconomic status in the Madison school district, both of which use the TAP and of these teachers 21% have come from schools in high socioeconomic areas.

Merit pay programs can also alleviate the problem of teacher retention. Stronge, Gareis and Little (2006) argue that merit pay or other performance pay programs provide added motivation for teachers in keeping novice teachers from leaving the profession after a few years and especially in retaining experienced teachers.

Political Opposition

Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 does not support merit pay for teachers. He believes teachers' pay should be increased based on performance tests, not arbitrary tests. He wishes to work with the NEA to find a new system to get rid of performance pay .
The National Education Association (NEA) adamantly opposes some forms of merit pay. In June 2003 NEA President Reg Weaver said:

"Teachers understand that politically motivated panaceas such as merit pay and eliminating tenure do nothing to improve teacher quality. Our members are open to alternatives, but we will always oppose quick fixes designed to weaken the voice of teachers and effectiveness of education employees in all jobs."[6]

Other opposition

A study by the Urban Institute
Urban Institute
The Urban Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that carries out nonpartisan economic and social policy research, collects data, evaluates social programs, educates the public on key domestic issues, and provides advice and technical assistance to developing governments abroad...

 found some positive short-lived effects of merit pay, but concluded that most merit pay plans "did not succeed at implementing lasting, effective ... plans that had a demonstrated ability to improve student learning." Problems included low teacher morale because of increased competition between teachers, as well as wasted time and money in the administration of the merit pay plans. The same study found "little evidence from other research...that incentive programs (particularly pay-for-performance) had led to improved teacher performance and student achievements."

Marie Gryphon, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute
Cato Institute
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held...

, makes some practical objections:
  • The system can't simply reward high scores. If it did, it would favor teachers in wealthy neighborhoods whose students came to school with excellent skills. Nor can the system reward only improvement. If it did, it would unfairly penalize teachers whose students were already scoring too well to post large gains.
  • Moreover, any money for test results scheme will worsen the problem of teachers cheating on standardized tests to avoid the consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act
    No Child Left Behind Act
    The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a United States Act of Congress concerning the education of children in public schools.NCLB was originally proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office...

    . Teachers willing to erase wrong answers on exams to avoid having their school labeled "needing improvement" will also be tempted by the thought of a personal raise.